I read with sadness the multiple media reports about babies being dumped nationwide and almost every other day, there are similar reports in various media.
Recently, it was reported that 53 baby dumping cases occurred from January to June this year where on average, for every three days, one baby is dumped. These statistics have not decreased for more than 15 years despite the policies and laws put in place.
In fact, just last month, a teenage mother was charged with murder when she allegedly flung her baby out of the apartment due to being in a state of shock over her unplanned birth.
The carnage will continue with more babies dying in the most unimaginable circumstances and teenage lives as well as futures destroyed due to mere moments of misjudgement.
Various plans and policies to tackle the issue of baby dumping have involved further study of existing programmes such as the effectiveness of baby hatches as well as proposals to increase legal literacy among teenagers.
However, many of these solutions do not tackle the root cause nor have they been shown to have a significant effect on reducing the number of baby dumping cases.
Often, the burden and blame are placed on the affected teenagers, who, not knowing where to seek help, are too scared to ask for it and do not know what to do.
We can’t legislate our way out of this complex problem nor can we continually place the blame on teenagers and adolescents, hoping to change their behaviour. Clearly, our existing programmes, policies and laws are not working. Just look at the number of baby dumping cases that occur every year.
The tumultuous transition from adolescence to adulthood involves complex hormonal changes that affect physical, mental and sexual development. Legislation is the least of their concerns. Stigmatising the natural biological transitions that teenagers experience will not help prevent unplanned pregnancies, either.
Globally, it has been shown that imparting comprehensive sex education and providing access to sexual and reproductive health services will help decrease unplanned teenage pregnancies. In addition, destigmatisation of unwed mothers, creating a supportive, non-punitive and non-judgmental system for teenagers in need is also associated with a decrease in the number of baby dumping cases.
The answers have been there for decades, yet we continue to apply ineffective measures that only stop-gap, or worse, subscribe to misguided beliefs that perpetuate more harm than good. The implementation of evidence-based policies and programmes is critical if we are going to have a fighting chance in tackling this serious issue.
Policymakers, authorities, parents and communities need to embrace the problem with openness, accepting what has been shown to really work rather than only instituting what is considered acceptable but fails all the time.
It is time that we recognise baby dumping as the most tragic outcome of a systemic failure. Only by adopting a new mindset and undergoing a complete overhaul of our programmes and policies will we be able to ensure that no baby is ever dumped in this country again.
Dr John Teo Beng Ho is a consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist.
The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.